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Adrian residents express concerns about their drinking water


People who live in Adrian are raising concerns about their drinking water. Residents say they've been complaining to the city for months about the taste and smell of the water.

A group of Adrian residents has obtained independent lab results showing cyanobacteria in some drinking water samples.

But the city says its tests show the water is safe. 

Tom Prychitko is the Director of Helix Biolab, the laboratory that did the testing for the residents. He says the difference in results is because Adrian is testing only for the presence of microcystin, one of the most commontoxins produced by cyanobacteria. (Neither the city nor the lab found the toxin in Adrian's water.)

Prychitko used a type of laboratory test called polymerase chain reaction (PCR) that can detect tiny quantities of DNA. Using PCR, he tested for cyanobacteria DNA in addition to specific microcystin DNA. In some samples, the test for cyanobacteria DNA was positive, while microcystin was negative. Microcystin is the most familiar toxin of concern that can be found in drinking water. However, there are a number of other dangerous toxins that cyanobacteria can produce, includingcylindrospermopsin, anatoxins, and saxitoxins.  

"I would be cautious if it were me. I would be cautious about drinking the tap water," says Prychitko. "I would be cautious in looking to purchase a bottled water alternative."

Adrian draws some of its drinking water from Lake Adrian. According to officials with Adrian utilities, the lake is susceptible to algal growth. Officials attribute the bad taste and odor some residents report to a reaction between the organic matter in the algae and the chlorine added as a disinfectant to the water. 

Brittany Dulbs is an Adrian resident, and an organizer for a group of citizens concerned about water quality. Using informal surveys and social media, she has collected dozens of reports from area residents who say there is a problem with their water. She wants city and state authorities to take residents' complaints seriously.

"I would just really like them to upgrade their plant. I think that's their best bet. And also from the state side, I would love to see some regulation be passed for cyanobacteria and its toxins," she says.

Michigan has no formal standards in place to regulate cyanobacteria in drinking water. Jason Berndt, a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality says it's working with the City of Adrian and says there is no threat to public health at this time.

There are no enforceable federal standards for cyanobacteria or related toxins. The Environmental Protection Agency issued Health Advisory Levels in 2015 for some cyanotoxins, however, these are not subject to the national primary drinking water regulation. These advisory levels serve as informal technical guidance for regulatory agencies and community water systems by providing information on health effects, methods for sampling, and how to treat cyanotoxins in drinking water. The MDEQ does not monitor for cyanobacteria, however, some systems collect samples and monitor the types of bacteria present in their source water. The MDEQ has worked with approximately a dozen surface water systems to voluntarily monitor for the most common cyanotoxin (Microcystin). This monitoring has occurred in 2017 and 2018 using Abraxis drinking water test strips to screen for the presence of total microcystin. MDEQ. MDHHS, city of Adrian staff, and a few concerned citizens met last week to discuss the information, facts, testing procedures, concerns, and how to inform the public on this issue. The city will be developing a document to inform customers of the issues discussed. The MDEQ will also be working with the city to proactively prepare a cyanotoxin management plan. The city monitored for total microcystin from July – November this year with no microcystin detected in the source water. The Michigan DEQ, DHHS, and the Lenawee County Health Department believes all testing conducted by the city and by citizen led groups has not indicated harmful toxins or viable bacteria, and as such no threat to public health has been identified at this time. If residents have specific health concerns, they should talk with their doctor. This and additional information will be provided to the residents by the city and likely distributed with their water bill.

Catherine Shaffer joined Michigan Radio in 2014. She works in the newsroom and specializes in stories related to the life sciences, health, and technology. Catherine earned a bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from Michigan State University and a Master’s from University of Michigan. Prior to Michigan Radio, Catherine has worked as a freelance writer, mainly in focusing on biotechnology and the pharmaceutical industry, since 2001. She is also an award-winning fiction writer. When not at work, Catherine enjoys being in the outdoors and practicing yoga.